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Posts Tagged ‘David Gordon Green’

Stabbing, shooting, gas explosions, falling from a great height, decapitation: some people just can’t take a hint, and so it is little surprise that Shatner-masked homicidal vessel of pure evil Michael Myers has once again shaken off apparently certain death and is back doing his thing on screen. This time the movie is Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green. Technically this is Halloween XII, but that’s the sort of title that doesn’t go down too well with focus groups, I imagine, and the one they’ve gone for is concise and catchy and tells you what to expect (like you couldn’t already guess).

The eleventh film, just called Halloween, disregarded all of the previous sequels and remakes, and displaced Halloween II as the continuation of the 1978 original. Perhaps it is therefore slightly ironic that there are quite a few call-backs to Halloween II, both explicit and structural, in the new film, not least in the way that it carries straight on from the end of the last one.

As you will of course recall, in that film Michael ended up caged in a burning cellar by Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the final girl from his 1978 killing spree, after she spent decades and a fortune preparing for his eventual return. However, no plan is perfect and what Laurie has reckoned without is the prompt and diligent response of the Haddonfield fire department, who get stuck into trying to put the fire out. Suffice to say that not everyone who goes into the burning building comes back out.

It actually takes a little while for the film to get to this point, as it opens with an extended flashback to Halloween 1978 and the events surrounding the end of the original film (in this continuity at least). Quite what purpose all of this serves doesn’t immediately become obvious, but what Green is seemingly trying to do is establish the sheer extent of the psychic trauma inflicted on the town by Michael’s visitations and the long-term effect it has on many of the inhabitants.

Back in the 2018 narrative, news of Michael Myers’ return slowly filters out, initially causing panic and distress – but a group of survivors and their friends decides they have done enough running and hiding, and decide to go on the offensive by hunting Michael down and dealing with him permanently. Laurie and her family are initially oblivious to this, as she is in surgery at the hospital (much less gloomy and deserted in this movie).

Michael, on the other hand, has polished off the fire crew and is steadily making his way through the town, visiting gory trauma on everyone in his path. But just who or what is he heading for…?

I note that Halloween Kills has had some rather mixed reviews, some suggesting the film is about nothing more than finding new ways for a man in a mask to bash people’s heads in, but I think it’s another rather superior Halloween film, respectful to the original to a degree that verges on reverence. Certainly they’ve done their due diligence in terms of getting the original cast on board: apart from Jamie Lee Curtis and Nick Castle, Charles Cyphers comes back as the sheriff, Nancy Stephens as the nurse, and Kyle Richards as one of the now-grown-up kids being babysat back in 1978 (making the transition from child actor must be a bit easier when you’re in a super-long-running franchise like this one). The other now-grown kid is played by Anthony Michael Hall, who is rather good in the part. It also looks like they digitally resurrect Donald Pleasence for a few scenes, but this is kept to a respectful minimum. There is also a rather bizarre pseudo-cameo by Bob Odenkirk as the yearbook photo of one of Michael’s original victims (apparently they couldn’t track down the original actor and then someone noticed the resemblance).

One consequence of this big cast is that it isn’t immediately at all clear what the focus of the story is going be this time around, beyond the requisite scenes of regular bloody slaughter. Slowly it becomes apparent: Laurie may have been the most prominent survivor of Michael’s 1978 attack, but there is a town full of other people who lost friends and family and their sense of security, and the film is largely about how they respond to his return. And while this initially seems positive – friends banding together to support each other and take steps to defend themselves – as the film progresses it transforms into something disturbingly similar to mob hysteria, something nearly as ugly and dangerous as a masked killer on the loose. Perhaps there is a political subtext too – Laurie observes that the system has failed all of these people, and hence they are taking matters into their own hands. Quite what comment the script is trying to make is wisely left for the viewer to decide, but it brings a welcome extra layer of texture to the film.

That said, this isn’t the most tense or scary film, with the main innovations being some reasonably inventive killings and a repeated motif where Michael finds himself confronted with large mobs of armed and aware enemies. What ensues is more like a kung fu movie than anything else, as they essentially charge him one at a time and get gorily despatched. (You would have thought that the seventh guy in line, the one with the power saw, would have thought, ‘You know what, on the basis of what’s happening, I’m not going to chance it,’ and run away.) The careful ambiguity as to whether Michael is an actual human being or something more fantastical is really stretched to its limit, anyway: the film is openly playing with the character’s mythic aspects by the end, even suggesting he is somehow powered by the fear and anger of the people around him.

The film certainly ducks the issue of actually attempting a conventional conclusion to the story, although this is probably because it was announced as the same time as Halloween Ends, due out next year (the title is suggestive, but as the Akkad family (long-time producers of the franchise) apparently have a legal clause preventing anyone from actually killing Michael Myers off without their permission, we’ll have to see). In the meantime, though, I think this is an effective and satisfying new riff on the Halloween franchise.

*Yes, I know that because some of these films take place on the same night and another doesn’t feature the character at all, the strictly accurate title would be The Nine Nights of Michael Myers. But you try coming up with names for these things.

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The good thing about going to see a film called Halloween on the actual day of Halloween is that you can be pretty certain you’re at or near the peak when it comes the appropriacy of your choice of movie. The bad news, if you fill the long hours by maintaining a light-hearted film review blog, is that your thoughts on the film are likely to be of little real topical interest to anyone stumbling across them – who cares about Halloween once we hit early November, anyway? Everyone is just busy growing moustaches or writing novels.

Yet here we are: Halloween, directed by David Gordon Green, and produced by Blumhouse, a company which currently rules the roost when it comes to making ultra-lucrative low-budget horror films (they also made the really good non-genre movie Whiplash). As you are doubtless aware, this is far from the first film entitled Halloween to be unleashed upon the public. The new Halloween is the tenth sequel to the original 1978 film – this is another example of a follow-up having exactly the same title as the film it’s based on, something which only seems to happen with John Carpenter movies (see also The Thing).

The new movie takes the Godzilla-esque approach of disregarding the nine previous films in the series (which wandered off into some fairly peculiar territory and didn’t all share continuity anyway) and being a direct sequel to the 1978 one. It opens with a couple of self-regarding and pretentious online journalists (Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees) visiting a psychiatric institution for the criminally insane in order to attempt to interview Michael Myers, who has been incarcerated there for forty years after murdering five people for no apparent reason on Halloween night.

Michael’s shrink, Dr Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), has become fascinated by his patient, but warns the journos that the killer is ‘dormant’ and has not spoken in all his time at the facility. And indeed he refuses to respond to their questions, even when one of them produces the shrivelled remains of the mask he wore while committing his crimes (this is, famously, a William Shatner mask painted white). This is, by the way, a superbly orchestrated scene: the iconic mask is brandished like some kind of unholy fetish, with the other inmates of the facility stirred into a frenzy of moans and whines and a distinct sense of some primordial evil being summoned back into existence. The smash cut to the title card and the appearance of Carpenter’s justly famous theme music puts the shine on a very strong opening which the film largely does justice to.

The thing about a Halloween movie is that it’s easy to get carried away and over-plot it: these films are basically about the bogeyman, an apparently unstoppable force of pure evil who kills for no rational reason. Previous sequels introduced notions of occult curses and Michael being fixated on killing members of his own family, this latter idea being introduced to rationalise his extended pursuit of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), as increasingly laborious methods of putting new spins on the basic idea. The new film makes reference to the idea of Michael and Laurie being siblings, but dismisses it as an urban legend.

Instead, it seems that Laurie was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and has paid the price for it ever since: forty years on from the first movie, she is a damaged, paranoid woman whose relationships with her daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) are strained at best – she has basically turned into Sarah Connor from Terminator 2, obsessed with preparations for the time when Michael inevitably returns.

And, of course, he does, although you have to cut the film some slack and accept that the authorities would decide to transfer Michael Myers to a new facility on October 30th, just in time for him to attain his freedom (in one of many call-backs to the original film, exactly how this happens is left somewhat enigmatic), suit up in his mask and overalls, and begin to carve a swathe through the good people of the town of Haddonfield…

Now, I’m no more a fan of the occult curse or long-lost sister plotlines than most people, but they do give Michael (credited, as is usual, as ‘the Shape’) something to do beyond just carving up random people (to be fair, he broadens his palette to include garrotting, strangulation, and blunt-force trauma this time around). Carving people up at random just about works for a film where the protagonists are unsuspecting everypersons being menaced, but here there is a much stronger element of role-reversal: both Laurie and the local sheriff (Will Patton) are tooled up and actively hunting Michael, giving an odd double tension to the film.

The film is really at its best in the extended sequences leading up to Michael’s actual attacks (which are, you will not be surprised to learn, frequent). At these points the film basically becomes a battle of wits between the viewer and the director as the latter attempts to mislead and surprise the former – is Michael going to turn out to be in the closet? Is he outside in the garden? Lurking on the stairs? Green is rather good at this, and restores a good deal of presence and menace to one of the great horror icons of the 70s and 80s – less annoying than Freddy Krueger, less of a fantastical cartoon than Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers is practically shy and retiring as far as homicidal forces of pure evil go, and the film carefully walks the line between depicting Michael as an exceptional but still human threat, and suggesting he is the vessel for some supernatural power.

Also getting good material is Jamie Lee Curtis, and the clash between these two old enemies at the climax of the film is tense and engrossing. One of the themes of the film is the baleful effect Michael has on those who come into contact with him and survive, and Curtis has a lot of meaty scenes as someone almost pathologically obsessed with refusing to even contemplate being a victim again. There is perhaps a whiff of the Unique Moment about the film, with three generations of Strode women coming together to combat perhaps the ultimate predatory male, but then I suppose the whole trope of the Final Girl represents this in some way.

For the most part, though, this is a film which feels quite self-consciously retro in its approach to the story – an act of reverence towards one of the foundational texts of American horror cinema. It revisits the old beats rather than doing anything especially innovative, but does so very well – the only issue being that Haluk Bilginer, to some extent filling the Donald Pleasence role in the plot, ain’t no Donald Pleasence. Nevertheless, it’s an engaging and scary film and one that discharges its obligations with some style. I can imagine the Halloween franchise advancing into the future for many years to come, propelled by remakes and sequels and reimaginings, assuming that those responsible for it treat it with the same kind of care and respect shown here.

 

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